R. K. Narayan Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207101-Narayan.jpg R. K. Narayan Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan (nuh-RI-yuhn) was born into a prosperous middle-class family on October 10, 1906, in Madras, India. There he spent his early years with his grandmother and uncle. Later he joined his parents, brothers, and sisters in the family home in Mysore. Mysore is probably the basis of his fictional city Malgudi, an Indian city as complex and as real as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Although according to his memoirs he was never particularly enthusiastic about academic work, Narayan attended a Lutheran mission school and Christian College High School (both in Madras) and in 1930 received his B.A. from Maharaja’s College (later the University of Mysore). He married in 1933; his wife, Rajam, gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Hema, in 1938. Rajam died of typhoid in 1939. Narayan never remarried.

Narayan began reporting for the Madras newspaper The Justice in 1933. After brief stints in teaching and journalism, he decided that he would be a fiction writer. His first novel, Swami and Friends, the comic story of two young Indian boys, was set in the fictional city that would make him famous. Yet the friend in England to whom Narayan had entrusted his manuscript could not find a publisher for it. In despair Narayan told his friend to destroy it. Instead, the friend took the manuscript to the writer Graham Greene, who was so impressed that he placed it with a publisher.

In his second book, The Bachelor of Arts, published two years later, Narayan takes a young man into a marriage, arranged, like the writer’s own, with the help of a horoscope. The Dark Room also deals with a marriage, but one far less happy than that of Narayan. When his own beloved young wife died of typhoid, Narayan faced a spiritual crisis; out of that crisis came the spiritual growth, the intellectual maturity, and the acceptance of life which would bring to Narayan new status as a writer. After his father’s death in 1937, Narayan began selling articles to magazines. That year, British novelist W. Somerset Maugham visited Mysore and read Narayan’s work. In 1938, Narayan received a government grant to write a travel book about Karnataka state, and this experience provided information for many future works. In 1939 he began writing stories for the Madras newspaper The Hindu. He began publishing his own periodical, Indian Thought, in 1941.

The English Teacher, published in 1945, which tells the story of a teacher who loses his wife, is the first of Narayan’s major novels. Critics praised the work, which was both more unified and more profound than those which had preceded it. During the 1940’s,...

(The entire section is 1109 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan was born in Madras, South India, on October 10, 1906. Until the family moved to Mysore, he remained in Madras with his grandmother, who supervised his school and college education. In his autobiography, My Days (1974), Narayan admits his dislike of education: he “instinctively rejected both education and examinations with their unwarranted seriousness and esoteric suggestions.” Nevertheless, in 1930, he was graduated from Maharaja’s College (now the University of Mysore).

In 1933, he met a woman by the name of Rajam and immediately fell in love with her. In 1935, after overcoming almost insurmountable difficulties (to begin with, their horoscopes did not match), Narayan and Rajam were married. She was a great help in his creative work, but she lived to see publication of only three novels. She died of typhoid in 1939. Narayan’s fourth novel, Grateful to Life and Death (1953), dedicated to his dead wife, centers on the trauma of this loss and on a hard-won sense of reconciliation. Rajam is portrayed in some detail as Sushila in that novel and, later, as Srinivas’s wife in The Printer of Malgudi (1957).

Narayan had not begun his career as a writer without some false starts. Indeed, only after having worked at a number of jobs without satisfaction and success—he worked for a time in the civil service in Mysore, taught for a while, and served as a correspondent for Madras...

(The entire section is 412 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Rasipuram Krishnaswami Narayan was born in Madras on October 10, 1906. During his early years he was reared by his grandmother in Madras. Very early in his autobiography, My Days, he records his dislike of education, of the mission schools, of the British colleges, and of his short-lived adventure as a schoolteacher. All these experiences permeate his writing and serve as the subject matter of his fiction. His literary education was predominantly Victorian in flavor. Francis Turner Palgrave’s The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language (1861), Sir Walter Scottthe works of, and reading William Shakespeare’s plays aloud were its staples.

In 1933, Narayan fell in love with a woman named Rajam, whom he married only after great difficulties because their horoscopes showed theirs was not an auspicious match; she died of typhoid in 1939. The trauma of this loss, his inability to come to terms with his fate, and his effort to defy his destiny led to Narayan’s interest in purported psychic communication with the dead and provided the inspiration for The English Teacher. A feeling of helplessness in the face of destiny takes sometimes comic and sometimes tragic turns throughout Narayan’s work.

Narayan was commissioned to write a travel book on Mysore, and after several years of writing for The Hindu and other journalistic experiences, he began publishing Indian Thought, a quarterly of literature, philosophy, and culture. Not until October, 1956, did Narayan travel outside the boundaries of the three-city area of Madras, Mysore, and Coimbatore. He went to Berkeley, California, on a Rockefeller Foundation grant to write a novel, The Guide. Subsequently, he visited the United States several times while living and writing in Mysore and Madras. The death of his daughter Hema in the early 1990’s caused him to become extremely reclusive. Narayan died on May 13, 2001 in Madras, India.